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Operation Cast Lead

Day 22 - Saturdya 17 January 2009

Beginning at 2:00 a.m., Israel ceased its actions against the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and will remain deployed in the Gaza Strip and its environs. In accordance with the cabinet's decision to accept the Egyptian proposal and the announcement that Israel will hold its fire, the IDF is currently taking the necessary measures to implement the decision. The cabinet's decision was made after the IDF achieved the objectives it set for Operation Cast Lead, chiefly dealing the Hamas terror organization a heavy blow to its infrastructure, weaponry stockpiles, rocket launching program and its terror operatives.

As the decision goes into effect, the commander of the operation, GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, will order the redeployment of IDF forces within the Gaza Strip in accordance with security assessments. Furthermore, the forces will be briefed on the specifics of the ceasefire rules of engagement. The IDF emphasizes that its forces will respond to any attack against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers, and that any such attack will be met with a harsh response.

The IDF stressed that the current Home Front Command safety instructions to residents of southern Israel remain in effect in light of the possibility that the rocket fire will continue as Hamas cynically seek to "have the last word." As ordered by IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and Maj. Gen. Galant, the operation has not yet ended, and the IDF's air, naval, ground and intelligence forces will remain alert so as to be ready for any situation. The IDF will continue to assess the situation and emphasizes that it sees Hamas as responsible for the stability of the ceasefire and the resumption of routine life for the residents of the Gaza Strip.

The IDF Spokesperson's Office reiterates that the IDF was sent to this operation following an extended period of restraint as Hamas continued to terrorize the residents of southern Israel with daily rocket barrages against towns and villages that impacted terribly on the daily life of people in the south of Israel.

On Saturday morning (Jan. 17), the IAF targeted approximately 70 tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor in the southern Gaza Strip. The tunnels were used for the smuggling of weaponry intended for terrorist operations. This aerial operation follows Friday's (Jan. 16) IAF operations, during which aircrafts struck more than 65 Hamas terrorist sites throughout the Gaza Strip. Among those targets were two rocket launchers from which rockets had been fired onto the cities of Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat shortly before, three bunkers with weaponry and missiles, seven operation centers, a Hamas shelter with weaponry, a mosque in Gaza City that served as a weaponry storage facility and a smuggling tunnel, two Hamas outposts, the house of a Hamas operative, six groups of armed terror operatives, four smuggling tunnels, 13 rocket launching sites, three weapons storage facilities - one of them inside of a Hamas training camp-- IEDs storage facilities, and five additional targets that were hit after being directed by the ground forces.

Thursday night (Jan. 15), IDF forces operating in the Gaza Strip identified a group of armed terrorists who were in the process of launching a mortar shell at Israeli territory. The forces immediately directed IAF forces, who then targeted the launching site and identified a hit. This incident is an example of the full cooperation between forces involved in the ground operation in the Gaza Strip - Infantry Corps, Armored Corps, Engineering Corps, Artillery Corps and Intelligence Corps - and the IAF and the IN.

Four IDF soldiers, two of them officers, from the Paratrooper Brigade were severely wounded by mortar shell fire in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday morning (Jan. 17). The soldiers received initial medical treatment on the scene and were then evacuated to the hospital for additiona medical treatment. The circumstances of the incident are being investigated, including the possibility that the IDF soldiers were hit by friendly fire.

Over the course of operations on Friday (Jan. 16) and Saturday (Jan. 17), the Israel Navy targeted several Hamas terrorist sites and rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip and continued enforcing the naval closure of the Gaza Strip.

UN chief Ban-Ki Moon is also in the region meeting with western-backed Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. "The fighting must stop now. We have no time to lose. If they take some more time there will be more casualties, more loss of human life more destruction. I would urge again a unilateral declaration of a ceasefire would be necessary at this time," he said.

A Hamas spokesman has said they will continue fighting if none of their ceasefire demands are met. Hamas rejected Israel's plan as "an attempt to break the Egyptian plan to achieve a bilateral ceasefire. ... A unilateral ceasefire does not bring a withdrawal of the Israeli forces," said Osama Hamdan, Hamas's representative in Lebanon, warning that "confrontation will continue." Hamas has proposed a year-long, renewable truce in Gaza, leading to the withdrawal of Israeli troops within a week and the immediate opening of all border crossings.

Israeli officials say they are close to reaching the goals of their offensive, which are to destroy Hamas' ability to fire rockets at civilians in Israel and to prevent the militant Islamist group from rearming. Israel was said to be close to deciding on a 10-day unilateral ceasefire to end the violence in Gaza. On Saturday, the 12-member Israeli Security cabinet will discuss an Egyptian proposal for a truce. On Friday, Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni signed an accord with Condoleezza Rice, aimed at stemming arms smuggling into Gaza. This was a key demand of the Israeli side, which now says it's entering the final act of its operation in Gaza. The ceasefire deal proposed by Egypt suggests a ten-day pause in fighting. However Israeli forces would still remain in Gaza and the border crossings would remain closed until security arrangements are made to prevent Hamas from re-arming itself.

The fighting has claimed over 1,100 lives among Palestinians, roughly half of them civilians according to Palestinian medics. On Saturday, was reported that an Israeli tank shell killed two boys in the town of Beit Lahiya when it hit a UN school. "This morning there was a very severe and devastating incident when a UN school with 1,600 civilians was hit, and as a result two boys aged five and seven were killed. The Israeli Defence Forces knew that hundreds of people have taken refuge in this school. They were perfectly aware of its coordinates. When you have a direct hit like this on a UN school, there needs to be an investigation to see whether a war crime has been committed," UNRWA spokesman Johan Ericsson said. Dozens of schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency, set up in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees, are sheltering around 40,000 Gaza residents due to the ongoing conflict. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has said Israel's actions in Gaza should be investigated as possible war crimes.


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